Sunday, 9 July 2017

REVIEW: The Dark Tower by Stephen King


Ka is a wheel, my friend.

So, I loved the Dark Tower series. It's one of the best works of fantasy I've read. If you haven't started it:

a) do so
b) don't read the spoilers here

This is a review of the 7th and final book in the series.

The Dark Tower series is an incredibly varied set of books, written over the course of more than 30 years - written by a young man starting out on a wholly uncertain writing future - written by an old man looking back on a glittering career - and punctuated by all his experiences, discoveries, epiphanies. King brings all his talents to these pages ... and some of his weaknesses. You should read it, it is (forgive the pun) a towering work of imagination and characterization.


This last volume is a curious mix for me, containing some great writing, an amazingly good idea for ending what must have been a very difficult tale to end well, and in some places some bewilderingly disappointing execution. This mix of brilliance and weakness has resulted in the 3* up top. 

Below I venture into the deepest realms of spoiler-land, pontificating on the ending. Don't go there if you've not read the book, really.

Highlight the remainder to read spoilery thoughts:

So. Randalf Flag, Susannah's baby, and most of all the Crimson King were all huge anticlimaxes for me. Given the nature of the ending and King's skill I wonder if these weren't perhaps intended to be anticlimaxes with everything turning out to be less impressive, less important, more shabby and spoiled than it had been built up to be in Roland's mind. In book 4/5 we see that anything can be magic, with Dodge gearsticks performing as magic wands. Perhaps here we see that anything can be your arch-nemesis and the undoing of the world - it's us (or Roland) who invests them with that power and at the end of it all he sees them for what they are? Who knows. Either way as a reader finding the Crimson King who has sat at the heart of this epic for decades, and finding him to be an unimpressive grenade-lobbing old man with no special powers, no wisdom or insights ... offering no closure ... well it didn't sit well. Perhaps this was intentional - to give me the same empty feeling Roland gets in the end, but it didn't quite work for this reader. I felt short-changed.

The idea for the close of the story, the coup de grace, is brilliant. But it could have been spelled out more clearly perhaps. A tough call since you don't want to over do it.

The end message (that I took at least) is that the journey was (and is for all of us) the important thing. Not the ending. And that if we set our sights on the end goal and sacrifice everything to get it, we will lose out on every level. Roland, who we admired for his unflinching commitment to the cause, for the doggedness with which he pursued the tower, is doomed to start at the beginning and repeat the hunt yet again for Ka is a wheel and he is bound to it. The strengths we saw in him, the willingness to sacrifice everything, even friends at the very end, are now shown as his weaknesses. His only chance to leave the wheel and find peace is to see this truth - that the important things are those he sacrifices time and again. His singularity of purpose is his curse, not his strength - the friendships and loves he encounters in the NOW are what matters, not the paper-thin Crimson King trapped in an empty tower. The path he plots toward the tower is the crucial thing - not if he gets there.

This is a beautiful, powerful way to conclude such an epic and I applaud King for his vision. I just wish he'd written it in a way that connected better with me when I read it.

You can go like my review on Goodreads if you like.

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